First same-sex couple to wed toast anniversary of landmark bill as poll reveals sea change in attitudes
Peter McGrath and David Cabreza were the first couple who married following the 2013 law change./Matt Writtle
The passing of the law that made same sex marriage legal 10 years ago had a “huge impact on society”, say campaigners, but they warned that the fight for equality is not over.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 changed the lives of millions and came after a long struggle for equal rights over hundreds of years.
It is now firmly established and supported by all sections of society, with a YouGov survey carried out this month finding 78 per cent of Britons say they support same-sex marriage, the highest level recorded to date.
A total of 62 per cent of over-65s back same-sex marriage, compared with only 27 per cent in 2011 when the plan to introduce it was first announced.
Almost half (47 per cent) of Britons say they personally know someone in a same-sex marriage.
Since the law was changed, there have been more than 50,000 same-sex marriages in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Our capital is a beacon of inclusivity and diversity, and, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this vital piece of legislation, it’s more important than ever that we champion our LGBTQI+ communities and continue to stand up for their rights. By working together, we can build a better London — a fairer, safer, more equitable city for all.”
Lynne Featherstone, who as minister for equalities pushed the coalition government to change the law, said it was an idea whose “time had come” but she still faced intense opposition from some quarters before she got her way.
The former Liberal Democrat MP said the LGBTQ+ community did “the heavy lifting” that made it possible and credited the work of the Labour government in introducing civil partnerships, as well as some fellow politicians including Theresa May and Michael Heseltine.
She said: “I was just the right person in the right place.
“The Institute of Government put on a morning for us newbie minsters and they had chosen Michael Heseltine and Andrew Adonis to talk to us and tell us what would be expected of us and really we have them to thank for same-sex marriage because Michael Heseltine said, ‘You’re going to be busy from seven in the morning to midnight, you’ll run around and five years will pass and if you haven’t ruthlessly prioritised a couple of things you want to get done you’ll leave office and you won’t have achieved anything in particular.’
“Walking back to the Home Office I was thinking what can I do? What needs doing? And same-sex marriage came into my mind because I’d always felt it was unfinished business. Civil partnerships were an amazing step forward but it was still a two-tier system.”
Her plan was backed by her then boss, Home Secretary Theresa May, and a “battle royale” commenced with religious figures, gay rights campaigners and politicians debating the issue.
Ms Featherstone, now a baroness, said: “It was challenging and the great organised religions of the world all rose up in arms against me and I was threatened with hell and damnation and I was regarded as the spawn of the devil. But since it happened 10 years ago no one has blinked an eyelid. It doesn’t really affect anyone. In fact there has been an increase in its popularity and I think it’s because these days everyone has family members, friends and it’s become part of our lives.”
According to the latest census, there were about 402,000 people in legally formalised same-sex relationships — same-sex marriages or civil partnerships — in 2021 across England and Wales.
That compares with 104,942 at the time of the last census, in 2011, at which time same-sex marriages were not performed or recognised.
Brighton and Hove is the same-sex capital, with 3,867 people — equivalent to 1.4 per cent of the population of the area — in same-sex marriages or civil partnerships on census day, 21 March 2021.
It was followed by three London boroughs: Lambeth, Islington (both one per cent of people in same sex-marriages or civil partnerships) and Southwark (0.9 per cent).
Robbie de Santos, of LGBT charity Stonewall, said the passing of the law allowing same-sex marriage was a “huge” moment.
He said: “I remember a really long fight. This came nine years after civil partnerships were introduced and I remember how quite offensive a lot of the conversations were and how many people in Parliament were making heinous comparisons with same-sex couples getting married, saying you could be marrying a dog next.
So the road to get there was rocky but I remember how emotional it was to start seeing those first same sex marriages come through, those couples getting married or upgrading their civil partnerships and it was so emotional and it had such a huge impact on society.”
Couples had to wait until March 2014 for the law to take effect and necessary changes to be made, meaning the first weddings happened on March 29, 2014.
Mr de Santos said it would be wrong to think of it as “an end point in the fight for equality” with many LGBTQ+ people facing “rising hate and rising divisive rhetoric”.